When Dipika Kohli ’97 was an undergraduate civil engineering major at NC State, she loved testing the waters of courses outside of her major at the beginning of every semester. She would even go so far as pretending to be a graduate student to get into creative writing courses, which were her favorite classes because of her dream of one day being a writer.
Kohli remembers how on the first day of a graduate creative writing class, the professor asked all of the would-be writers to jot down on a piece of paper why they wanted to write. She wrote on her piece of paper, “I want to write because I want to write.” The professor read it aloud and chalked it up to a flippant remark by someone trying to be cute. When class was over, Kohli watched him throw it in the trash with her classmates’ responses. She walked over to the trashcan and pulled it out. “That’s right,” she remembers thinking to herself about her sincere sentiment. “It was me. It was simple.”
Sixteen years later, Kohli, 37, is now a published author whose first e-book, The Elopement, was released in July. The story follows American-born Karin Malhotra, whose parents are Indian, as she elopes to Ireland with her Japanese boyfriend. Her parents do not approve of the cross-cultural marriage, and Malhotra has to sort out the joyful emotions of a new marriage buffeted by the painful exile from her family.
The Elopement is really a memoir portraying Kohli’s own experiences. Like her protagonist, she did elope in 2001 with her college sweetheart, Akira Morita, whom she met at NC State in 1994. The two now own and operate Design Kompany, a brand design studio in Durham, N.C. Kohli struggled with her parents’ disapproval of the marriage for years. Kohli made the conscious choice to give her character another name because writing was harder when she wrote in first person. “Midway through, I couldn’t get the distance I needed,” she says. “I was very emotional when I wrote in first person. If I changed the name, I could get a distance from myself.”
The e-book is the first installment in a larger series that she says is the culmination of years of soul-searching and bouncing around from an architecture job to international travel to writing gigs for papers in Ireland, where she fine-tuned her talents through a writer’s group, and in Seattle, Wash. The series is called “Kismuth,” which is Hindi for “destiny” and also the title of her blog, and it relays the important events in Kohli’s life, from her time as a child growing up in Detroit, Mich., and Goldsboro, N.C., to her coming of age and her marriage. Her next installment, The Dive, will be out in October.
Kohli, who has been blogging since 2006, recalls those creative writing classes she used to infiltrate and remembers them being scary because there was no right answer, something that was different from her courses in engineering where there were resolute, correct solutions to problems. She admits that with her life story now available in e-book, that fear is still there, but this time with excitement mixed in. “It’s scary because you don’t have an editor to say you did a good job,” she says. “And it’s empowering because you don’t have an editor to say you did a bad job.”